For humility's sake, I considered making a less definitive statement in my title, but that sort of reticence goes over ill in a blog post. "Try these somewhat-acceptable root beer floats! I'm certain you'll have at least a tepid response to them." On the other hand, I react negatively whenever I read that something is, as I read recently in a recipe for croutons, "a thousand times better than the store-bought ones." I'm sorry; no. That comparison is unacceptable. Something edible cannot be "a thousand times" better than something else edible. Perhaps it could be a thousand times better than poison, or dog droppings. But than croutons-in-a-bag? No.
So I hope you'll not just dismiss me when I state that The Root Beer Float, while an apparently simple concoction, can indeed be elevated to an art form. A cold, delicious art form. I didn't used to know this. I thought root beer floats were all the same. But the summer after I had Marigold, Sam and I borrowed all seven seasons of the show Gilmore Girls from my friend Stacie. Every night we would watch Gilmore Girls, I would nurse Goldie, and we would make root beer floats. (I still look back to that idyllic time with great nostalgia.) And over the course of so many root beer floats, we began to unlock their Great Secrets. We began to regularly achieve a float that was—well, not a thousand, but perhaps ten times better than "the typical" root beer float. And if you're going to have one anyway, why not have the best one possible? It would be wrong of me to take these secrets with me to the grave when they could bring so much deliciousness to the world.
Well, that's our thinking, anyway. And no one ever accused Sam and me of not taking food seriously enough.
All right. This is one of those delicate situations where I don't want to sound like those people who are always droning on about "high-quality olive oil"—and yet, as I am professing to have the best root beer floats ever here, I must state that these ingredients are a key part of the process. This combination of Blue Bunny Vanilla Bean ice cream and A&W Root Beer is unsurpassed by any other brands, to our tastes. You can, of course, use your own favorite brands instead—but I can no longer assume any responsibility for the results, in that case.
Make sure the root beer is chilled first. Sometimes we put our glasses in the fridge too. Everything should be as cold as possible. And though of course you can use any glass, I really like these milkshake glasses we got from a restaurant-supply store, and the long-handled spoons.
We used to buy the two-liter bottles of root beer until we realized that it didn't stay fizzy as long once it was opened. Since we were only using a little each night, getting a 12-pack meant we could always have the root beer at peak fizziness.
Pour a little root beer into the glass first, to ensure that even your first scoop of ice cream will have the maximum amount of surface area exposed to the root beer.
The shape of your scoops of ice cream is critical. I aim for a sort of thin C-shape.
A thicker O-shape is okay too. The essential thing is to create a hollow which can later be filled with root beer. The root beer flows into the hollows of the ice cream, freezes, and forms little root beer geodes and crystals of deliciousness.
Put your scoops into the glass with the curved side up: that is, if you have a C or U-shape, make sure it is upside down like an umbrella. (You can see the hollow part of my scoop at the arrow, above.) This is, again, to increase the area of contact on the ice cream for the root beer. If possible, you always want to pour root beer directly onto the surface of the ice cream rather than onto other root beer. After placing each scoop of ice cream into the glass (our glasses hold 3-4 scoops), pour just a little root beer right onto the ice cream so it can be freezing and forming a sort of delicate root beer crust.
Also, the back (or top) of the scoop often has these fissures in it. This is good, very good. They must face upwards to receive your root beer. Once all your scoops have been placed, you can pour the rest of the root beer in (remember: directly onto the ice cream. Even if it makes you spill a bit, it's worth it) until the glass is full.
Ah. And now you can see the root beer freezing on the surface of the ice cream. SO delicious.
Those fissures are excellent. More surface area!
A scoop with fewer fissures is fine too. It still forms a fine, thin, icy, impossibly delicate crust.
And now we see the worthwhile results of the C-shaped scoops of ice cream: icy caves like this one, full of trapped root beer foam. It is delightful to discover one of these caves with your spoon.
The root beer foaming upwards into the empty spaces also creates these rich, frozen veins of crystallized root beer within the ice cream. They add variety in texture, plus increased depth of flavor as the root beer saturates sections of ice cream.
More veining. Note the swirls and the root beer crystals within them.
I also like it when the frosty root beer combines with the ice cream into this sort of milkshake-y slush.
Your final view will be of vanilla beans floating toward you in the creamy root beer. This last gulp is Sam's favorite part of the root beer float (besides the icy veins), he says.
Root beer float perfection!